5 Great Non-singles of 2014

I’ve done this the past two years, and it’s one of my favorite posts to write. There’s so much depth on country records that many people don’t get to. In fact, some of my favorite songs were never singles. Hope this gives you a few jumping off points on some deep records. The only rule: the song must come from an album that had a legitimate mainstream single. You can read all the 2014 non-singles lists here. In no order:

Miranda Lambert – “Hard Staying Sober”
writers: Miranda Lambert, Luke Laird, and Natalie Hemby

Probably the most stone-cold country song on Platinum, this rouser is the type of song that Miranda does best. With a chorus that only differs in volume from the verse, the song had better remain interesting — and it does. It’s an interesting show of versatility on the writers’ part as well: as many beat-driven songs as Luke Laird puts out, this shows his country roots. Natalie Hemby’s strength is writing outside the lines (like on Lambert’s Virginia Bluebell), but she shows her ability to write straight down the center here. Platinum had lots of great moments, and there’s still plenty of time for singles. In Miranda’s native Texas, this thing should be a radio hit. Oh, and Chris Stapleton roaring on background vocals sure doesn’t hurt.

David Nail – “I’m A Fire”
writers: Jaren Johnston and Tom Douglas

Jaren Johnston and Tom Douglas seem to bring out the best in each other. Douglas, a veritable legend responsible for “The House That Built Me”, “I Run To You”, and Collin Raye’s “Little Rock”, serves as an elder statesman for the Nashville songwriting community. Johnston, on the other hand, is a rocker, fronting redneck rockers The Cadillac Three and penning songs for Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, and Jake Owen. Somehow, the two are a perfect fit, churning out “Raise ‘Em Up” for Keith Urban and Eric Church, “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” (with Jeffrey Steele) for Tim McGraw, and this song, buried at the end of David Nail’s latest.

Wide-open strumming and a rolling rhythm set the stage, but the cadence on this song (especially in the pre-chorus) is what seals the deal. Nail’s unashamed appreciation for his better half and impassioned vocal performance help this song hold its own, even though the next song in sequence is a cover of Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston”. Interestingly, this song’s Spotify plays are the highest of any song (besides the singles) from the record, possibly indicating that other people respond as well. Can’t help but thing that this thing could very well be a (hit) single of its own.

Eric Church – “Dark Side”
writers: Eric Church, Jeremy Spillman, Travis Meadows

Knowing what I know about Travis Meadows, this song might be straight autobiography. But as he told me, Eric Church had the entire first verse and chorus when they sat down to write it. Some have said that this is just more Eric Church outlaw marketing, but the truth behind the song is real. We all have something we’re trying to keep down, someone we aren’t sure if those who love us would accept.

Church points to the South as a possible source of his dark side — the “duality of the Southern thing”, as Patterson Hood calls it. Murky territory here, and Church follows it straight down into his spoken-word odyssey “Devil, Devil”. I can’t wholeheartedly endorse what follows, but this nuanced, brooding near-meditation hits home on many levels.

Lee Ann Womack – “Send It On Down”
writers: Chris Knight and David Leone

This song captures a man trapped between his past and a future he can’t see. Chris Knight has made a career writing great songs about hard people from forgotten places, and this continues that tradition. Womack sketches out a song about a town drunk who has reached the point of desperation, sitting with the “quart he just killed” on a set of empty bleachers on a lonely Sunday. Even still, the man’s cry rings true: “Jesus, can you save me?”

Slicing through the haze in his head, the narrator is surprisingly self-aware — he knows that he’s slowly fading away, and that the window of opportunity to make it out alive might be closing. Devastating and beautiful all at the same time. Frank Liddell surrounds this prayer with just the right amount of production to drive it home.

Tim McGraw – “City Lights”
writers: Deric Ruttan and Jonathan Singleton

I may be just ahead of the game on this one — this sounds so much like a Tim McGraw single, I can’t see how it won’t be. From the first plucked notes, I thought “Red Rag Top”, one of my favorite McGraw tunes (written by Jeff Black). From there, it veers dangerously close to a truck song, before redemption comes in the form of a winning two-line pre-chorus melody.

Ruttan and Singleton sprinkle this song with interesting words — “faraway eyes”, “diamond dust”, “kudzu king” — and keep it from being just another debaucherous dirt-road-night-drive song by recalling a novel concept: actually saying something nice about a woman. I’d love to hear more of this on the radio.

Tom Douglas’ NSAI Hall of Fame Induction Speech

Tom Douglas writes songs with gravitas. He writes songs about real things, with weight and meaning. And here, he inspires songwriters to press harder into their craft through a brilliantly crafted speech. Watch, enjoy, and be inspired.

A Conversation with Angaleena Presley

Angaleena Presley was 30 minutes late because she was writing a song, which is forgiven, of course. Her debut LP American Middle Class releases October 14th.

So you just finished writing a song by yourself. Do you do that a lot?

It’s random that I get inspired to write by myself, because I’m rarely by myself. I just got lost in it just now.

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A Conversation With Travis Meadows

I first heard Travis Meadows through his Killin’ Uncle Buzzy record, which came highly recommended from a few trusted sources. I then saw his name pop up on Eric Church’s Outsiders record, then on the title cut from Dierks Bentley’s Riser record. His most recent cut is Jake Owen’s “What We Ain’t Got”, a song that stands out among the crowd right now for it’s vulnerability and honesty. I had a lively conversation with Travis, as he recounted a hard life that is now turning up diamonds.

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